Christopher Hoult

Software engineer, actor, speaker, print designer

Image credit: Ross Vernal

I've recently been having a bit of a tough time with things in my life in general, and part of my efforts to become happier have led to talking about it a bit more. I was trying to talk about how I've always coped (poorly) with responsibilities and events in my future, and I came up with the following analogy.

From the valley, I look up at the hill that rises above me. I've agreed to meet someone - a friend; a colleague; a customer - on the other side at a set time. I've got my walking boots, my jacket, a tent - all the gear that I know, through experience, I need. From here, the hill doesn't look very high, and it wouldn't take me too long to climb over the top. I could, of course, just go over the side of it, but the perfectionist in me only sees the summit.

I walk to the foot of the hill, but take my time about it - it won't take me long to climb, and I've never failed to meet someone before, so why rush? Just behind it, I can see another hill I need to climb after to meet someone else; no big deal.

I finally get to a time when I could really just start the climb, and I look at the hill and... it's a bit taller than I thought; from here, at the bottom, it looks like a tougher climb. I've made them before, but something stops me; I've still got time, I'll camp out and tackle it tomorrow. I'll make the meet, no problem.

Tomorrow comes, and the hill is still there. As are the two hills behind that. All of them need summitting, but I've not even started the first one. Still time, but I'm conscious of all the time I've wasted so far. I could have climbed all three already and relaxed on the other side!

Why the hell couldn't I do that? Why didn't I? Now I've got less time to climb than I could have done if I'd started yesterday. I can envisage me failing to make the climb, and disappointing the person I'm supposed to meet. Yet that fear of failure snowballs, rather than spurs me on, and I sit in my tent, beating myself up over it. Instead of taking action to get in front, I start playing this horrible game of brinksmanship with my responsibility. A cycle of angst.

It takes me incredible effort, but with just about enough time to do it, I pack up my tent and start climbing, hating myself on the way up. And yet suddenly, without breaking a sweat, I'm at the top of the hill, looking down - of course I made it! Of course I could do this! Why did I ever doubt myself? Why didn't I do this sooner? It was so easy!

I look back behind me and I see all of the hills I've climbed before. Thousands of times before. All of them just like this one; some a little harder, some a little easier. Why did I beat myself up at the bottom? Why didn't I just take it on?

I look forward and I see all of the hills in front of me, and I know they're all easy too. Lets be more proactive next time, yeah?

I descend the hill, off to make my rendezvous, feeling so much better than I did on the other side, in my tent. Feel this Chris! This could have been yours, none of that negative stuff - if only you'd done it when you got there!

I get to the bottom, and meet my friend. They have no idea what I've gone through to get there, but they're nice enough. They have no idea how close I came to disappointing them; to failing them. I've gotten away with it yet again. Lets not do things so close to the wire next time Chris.

I get a call - "Can you meet me on the other side of a hill in three days' time?" I've just crested a hill, I can do this! "Sure thing!" I say - and another hill is added to the horizon. But it's alright, I can do it.

Just not now. There's plenty of time left. No need to rush.

One of the other pieces of this analogy makes me sad too - when something great is on the horizon, I know it's there, but all I can see are the hills in the way, that I need to climb. And so excitement and anticipation are things that I find hard to come by.